15. 10. 2001
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Britské listy

ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
14. 10. 2001

A lecture

Good PR: How Britain succesfully presented itself as a racist imperial power to the Czech Republic.

A talk to be given by Jan Čulík at Glasgow University on 15th October 2001.

Democracy does not work across borders

I want to talk today about a worrying instance of arbitrary rule, an act which is probably illegal, certainly from the point of view of Czech law, which has been forced by the British government on the Czechs, and an act which is not subjected to democratic control in this country, due to an almost total failure of the British media to report it.

It has often been said that one of the problems of democracy is that it applies only to the relationship between the government and the citizens within one country. A democratic government may be wary of introducing measures which would negatively affect its own citizens - it might happen that the citizens might rebel and the government would lose an early election Unfortunately, in matters of foreign policy, the question of democratic accountability does not quite apply. The government of a democratic country may take measures abroad which will effect negatively the citizens of another country, but these citizens do not have any effective way of stopping the foreign power from meddling in their lives. The government which meddles abroad may occasionally get a rough ride from its own media but usually, I fear, the media are disinterested in the difficulties of people of other countries, caused by the government of the country in which the media operates. In the case of Britain, the ignorance of the media is the biggest if the affected people don't speak English.

This unsolved problem - that government of Western powers can meddle with lives of other peoples with impunity - is undoubtedly at least partially the root of the current discontent in the third world countries directed at the West, although there are surely many other factors at play.

Since the summer of 2001, I have witnessed a worrying instance of this kind of arrogant, imperial behaviour in the attitude of the British government towards the Czech Republic, ostensibly Britain's ally and an Associate Country of the European Union.

It's all to do with the Romanies and the incompetent British asylum and immigration system.

The Romany problem

As is well known, the Central and East European Romanies are in trouble. They have always lived under pressure in the Central and East Europe because their nomadic way of life was incompatible with the conditions of Europen living. Large numbers of Romanies were murdered by the Nazis - this is a trauma from which the Romany population has never recovered. The communist regimes of the second half of the 20th century tried forcibly to assimilate Romanies by various more or less brutal ways, including forced sterilisation of Romany women. Primarily in response to the assimilation pressure with which it could not cope the nomadic way of life of the Romanies has been destroyed and has often been replaced by antisocial, parasitical, pathological and rebellious behaviour towards the majority society. At the same time, it has to be said that even those Romanies who have conformed to the pressures of modern society, acquired education and live like normal citizens are exposed to quite unacceptable levels of racism and violence in the Central and East European societies.

The plight of the Central and East European Romanies has worsened since the fall of communism. Most Romanies have lost their jobs and have become subject to sustained racist abuse. The Czechs usually say "I am not a racist, but..." and then there follows a long litany of racist prejudice. The relations between the Romanies and the white Czechs are quite tense.

In a primitive way, the Czech tabloid Nova Television attempted to react to the rising Czech-Romany tension. in 1997, it broadcast a shoddily researched, highly idealised report on the happy life of Romanies who had emigrated from the Czech Republic to Canada and then to Britain was broadcast. This created a long term wave of Romany immigration first to Canada and then to the United Kingdom.

It is very difficult to say to what extent the Romany applications for asylum on the basis of persecution are justified. It is well documented that Romanies are exposed to sustained, sometimes even institutionalised racism in Central Europe in general and in the Czech Republic in particular. In fact most Romanies admit that they come to Britain and other West European countries exactly because although they become victims of racist attacks by right wing extremists in Britain just as in Central Europe, western societies generally are more open-minded and tolerant towards them than is the case in Central Europe. There have been well documented cases of physical terror attacks against a number of Romanies in their native countries.

Canada has granted political asylum to approximately 1000 Czech Romanies. Great Britain has assumed a much stricter attitude and has tried to deny political asylum to most of them. Nevertheless, between 8 and 20 per cent of Romany applicants for asylum have been granted asylum in the UK on appeal.

Inefficient British asylum procedures

Due to inefficient asylum procedures (applicants for asylum in Britain often wait for final decision for up to four years) Britain was becoming increasingly worried by the relatively small, but unceasing influx of Romany applicants for asylum in Britain. Rather than properly reforming its own, British asylum system (Oxford University specialist in immigration law Guy S. Goodwin-Gill argues that British immigration procedures are arbitrary and unaccountable and demands that a professional, independent agency, fully separate from the Home Office, be set up for the processing of asylum applications) Britain issued a threat the Czech Republic that unless it unprecedentedly allowed British immigration officers to prevent Romanies from travelling to Britain before their board their plane at Prague Airport, it would impose visas on all Czech citizens, just like it had done in the case of Slovakia, where anyone who wishes to travel to Britain must first personally report to the British Embassy in Bratislava to the appropriate racial officer who personaly examines check the colour of their skin before deciding whether or not to allow them to travel to the UK

The Czech government yielded to the British blackmail and unashamedly sacrificed the rights of its dark skinned citizens for the benefit of the white majority population. The British immigration racist filter, instituted by the British at Prague Ruzyně Airport on the 18th July 2001 with the tacit agreement of the Czech authorities, was almost certainly illegal, undoubtedly from the point of Czech law. Cynically, the British government decided to introduce this measure in the height of summer, in the middle of summer holidays, hoping that no one would notice. And indeed, not very many people noticed the introduction of this abhorrent measure in Britain (when I was leaving Prague about three weeks ago, British tourists, returning to London, knew nothing about what was going on and did not understand why their British passports were being given special exist visas!), but in the Czech Republic, the decision produced a fierce controversy. The scandal continued for many weeks. British racism at Ruzyně Airport was headline news for ore than a month in the Czech Republic and it has seriously damaged the image of New Labour Britain in the eyes of the Czechs.

British diplomats "being economical with the actualité"

The racist filter at Ruzyně Airport was set up just about two days after I had arrived in Prague for the summer. Witnessing this measure at first hand was distinctly uncomfortable. This was the first time since the fall of communism in 1989 that some Czech citizens were again being barred from travelling abroad, and this time, the British were making the decisions who could go and who could stay.

David Broucher, British Ambassador to the Czech Republic, said on Czech television on Monday 23rd July that "no Czech citizens have the right to apply for asylum in Britain" (implying that the Czech Republic was a democracy, so there was no need to apply for asylum). This was a blatant piece of misinformation: a certain number of Czech citizens (Romanies) have recently been granted asylum in Britain on appeal - the Romanies ARE persecuted in the Czech Republic. When asked by a TV reporter what concrete principles the British immigration officials were using in Prague for excluding would be travellers to Britain, Broucher did not answer the question, he waffled. Czech TV also asked Broucher why his immigration officials excluded from travel to Britain dark skinned people who had enough money, had invitations and had return air tickets. He avoided the question and talked about something else.

Broucher's deputy, Denis Keefe insisted on Czech TV that the British immigration checks at Prague airport could not possibly be racist because there were laws against racial discrimination in Britain. He automatically assumed that his immigration officials, working at Prague Airport, were subject to British law - which was not the case, Prague Airport is not British territory, although the British began to insist that it was (but not very loudly, knowing that such an assertion would not stand up in court). Keefe also conveniently "forgot" a new amendment of the British Race Relations Act 2000, which amazingly, permits British immigration officials to make racist decisions.

What it looked like on the ground

Romany and human rights organisations, especially the Czech Helsinki Committee and the Amnesty International in London have strongly criticised the British measures at Prague Airport as racist, Prague and London governments rejected this criticism. The Czech Helsinki Committee wished to have its representatives at Ruzyně Airport present during the interviews with British immigration officials, but to begin with, the British were refusing this and eventually they allowed the representatives of the Helsinki Committee to be present for one day only. The Czech Helsinki Committee repeatedly protested against the British ethnic filter at Prague Airport.

You may think that I am exaggerating, but the parallels with the racial exclusion, as practiced by the Nazis in Central Europe, were clear in Prague this summer, uncomfortable and a little too close for comfort. The Czech authorities acquiesced in the British outrage "for the good of the majority society", closing their eyes to a discrimination of a minority. Both the Foreign Ministr Jan Kavan and his Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palouš defended the racist exclusions on TV and said that the aim was to prevent visa being imposed from Britain on all Czechs, which would be "much worse". Palouš said that the Romanies could always apply for asylum at the British Embassy in Prague - that was later denied by the Embassy spokesman. It is perhaps absurd that while making public statements supporting the British racist filter, Jan Kavan sent a confidential message to Britské listy, saying that he fully supports our criticism of this measure. It was probably on his part a feeble attempt at media manipulation - he tried to persuade us by informal channels not to criticise him.

This is how AFP reported the introduction of the measure on 18th July:

Feed Date: 18/07/01
Feed Time: 15:41
Keywords: Czech, Britain, asylum Language:

Subject: Britain blocks gypsies in Prague immigration clampdown by Jan Tucek

ATTENTION - ADDS protests by gypsies turned back ///

PRAGUE, July 18 (AFP) - British immigration officers blocked a number of gypsy families from boarding London-bound flights in Prague Wednesday in a move to clamp down on bogus ayslum-seekers before they even reach Britain. The Roma families were declared "undesirable" at Prague airport by officers on the first day of an initiative to cut the number of people arriving in Britain with no right to stay.

"It is a flexible response to high numbers of passengers travelling from Prague and subsequently found not to be eligible for entry" to Britain, said a British Home Office spokeswoman,

The blocked gypsies accused the British officials of discrimination. They said people with white skin were not being searched, while dark-skinned gypsies were "automatically led off to a special room.

"After five minutes the translator told us we wouldn't be going," said Ondrej Holub, whose family was one of the first to be stopped. "The colour of our skin was the main reason for this decision," he said.

The influx of gypsies from the central European country and neighbouring Slovakia led to violent protests in Britain a couple of years ago, and London has remained highly sensitive to the issue.

Gypsies live in extreme poverty and mostly outside of normal social infrastructures in the Czech Republic and other countries in the region including Slovakia, where they face widespread discrimination. Czech citizens have never required a visa to travel to Britain, although London has warned it could review the situation in recent years.

Two years ago, the British government came under pressure after violent clashes between locals and refugees in the port of Dover, where many asylum-seekers arrive by ferry from continental Europe.

The deployment at Prague airport, activated under an Anglo-Czech convention signed in February, is linked to "the long-term influx of gypsy asylum-seekers into Britain," Czech radio reported.

"We hope it will be a short-term thing, but it will depend on the success of it," said the Home Office spokeswoman, describing the operation as a "pre-clearance" monitoring system.

Foreign ministry spokesman Aleš Pospíšill said that a British official could not refuse to allow a Czech citizen leave his country. "But he can advise airlines from taking them on board," he said.

Airlines face fines of 2,000 pounds if they decide to take a passenger deemed undesirable by the British officials, said spokesman Dan Plovajko. The new measures involve 10 flights daily, eight from Prague to London and one each to Manchester and Birmingham. The British officers were checking passengers before they checked in their luggage for the flight to Britain. The date of the start of the initiative was kept secret until the last minute, by agreement between the two countries.

The British spokeswoman said 1,230 people arriving from the Czech Republic had claimed asylum in Britain last year, and 515 applications had been received by the end of May this year. The number of successful applications was "very small," she added.

The deployment of immigration officers at a foreign airport is almost unprecedented, she said. "It was tried briefly in New York in the late 1980s" but has not been used since, she told AFP.

Czech radio meanwhile reported renewed concern that Britain could introduce visa requirements for Czechs, if the strengthened controls in Prague did not work. The Home Office spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.


Just a couple of days after the institution of the British racist filter at Prague airport, aimed at preventing the Czech Romanies from fleeing from persecution, yet another Romany was murdered in a small Czech town.


This is a translation of an article, published on 24th July, in the Pravo daily, see


A twenty-two year old skinhead stabbed to death a thirty-year-old Romany at a disco at Svitavy in the night from Friday 20th July to Saturday 21st July. The police has charged the man with a racially motivated murder. The accused openly supports the skinhead movement.

"The skinhead first verbally assaulted the Romany man using racist abuse and then he repeatedly stabbed him in the stomach. The Romany man suffered serious injuries of which he subsequently died. The attacker has been charged and detained, said Iva Markova, the press spokesperson for the East Bohemian Police. If he is found guilty, he can be sentenced to up to 15 years imprisonment, or can be given an "exceptional punishment".

As the police has said, the skinhead had been sentenced before for racially motivated violence. Four years ago, he stabbed a Romany man in a Svitavy street, without any provocation or motivation. "Although the court found him guilty of violent assault, it gave him then only a suspended sentence," said the Deputy Director of Svitavy police Tomas Fadrny. He added that two years ago the skinhead got in conflict with the law as a result of his fight with an anarchist, and that he had committed a similar offence in 1996.

According to our reporters, the twenty two year old skinhead started insulting a group of Romany customers at a disco, hurling racist abuse at them. Without warning he stabbed one of the Romany men several times and the man succumbed to the injuries. The murdered man leaves behind a wife who is seriously ill and two small children.

I quote from my letter to Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, dated 23rd July, 2001:

The scene in the Czech Republic today.

1. A skinhead verbally assaulted a Romany and then he killed him by several knife wounds in the stomach.

2. A group of youngsters have gone on trial for throwing Molotov cocktails into Romany homes.

3. British immigration officers continue arbitrarily to exclude people with dark skin from travel to Britain.

4. According to an opinion poll, 57 Czechs feel there is nothing wrong with the action of the British at Prague airport and moree than 70 percent Czechs feel the action of the British is not racist. The main concern of the majority Czech population is the fear that the British might reintroduce visa.

5. British Ambassador to the Czech Republic David Broucher lied on Czech TV tonight that "no Czech citizen can apply for asylum in Britain" (How come that several Romanies, i.e. Czech citizens, have been granted asylum in Britain on appeal?)

The Guardian is silent.

It's all happening in a far away country about which we know nothing, eh?


A political mistake, made by the British

But, politically, it was a wrong move to transfer the British immigration checks from Heathrow to Prague Airport. Under normal circumstances, passengers from Central and Eastern Europe to Britain are subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment by immigration officials at British airports, without the presence of Czech cameras and Czech journalists, outwith the glare of publicity. But in Prague, the British immigration officials were forced to do their "work" in the full glare of publicity. It was the height of summer, there was not much other news and the controversy capturing the attention of the media for many days on end.

As usual, the Czech public service television was experiencing internal difficulties. In the wake of the Christmas 2000 Czech TV rebellion which successfully put a stop to profesionalising reform at Czech TV, under the pretence of a "struggle for freedom of speech", more internal cataclysms were taking place in Czech TV in the summer 2001, this time more or less outside the interest of the media. Temporarily, it seemed that a group of reformers from the outside gained an upper hand within Czech TV who wished to do proper, hard hitting journalistic work. When a Romany reporter at Czech TV proposed that he would like to put the new British racist filter to the test, pretending to want to travel to Britain while filming the interviews, conducted by the British immigration officials with a hidden camera, the new editor of the investigative Fakta programme, Jiří Ovečka, backed the idea and agreed to finance it. This was very important, even though the execution of the idea eventually turned out to be quite unprofessional.

Thus, Czech TV send two reporters to Prague Airport, wishing to travel to London: one was white, the other was Romany. The white person was duly allowed to travel, the Romany was turned back. Everything had been recorded with hidden cameras. Britské listy learned that the material had been made but for several days, Czech TV would not broadcast it. Days passed while we were constantly being assured by sources at Czech TV that the stuff was finally going out on the main news that very night - but nothing. So, on Wednesday 25th July 2001we forced Czech TV's hand. In the Britské listy edition for that day, we put out this notice:

Is Czech TV finally beginning to do professional work? As we have originally learned from informed circles outside Czech Television, Czech TV has sent two of its reporters to Ruzyně Airport, one white person and a Romany person (reporter Richard Samko). The white reporter has been let through by the British immigration officials and she is now in London, while the Romany person has been barred from travel. The questioning by the immigration officials has beeen recorded by hidden cameras and the first part of this material is finally due to be broadcast tonight, on Main Evening News at 7.15 pm. The transmission of this material has been so far put off several times, allegedly for technical reasons, we are told there has not been enough time to edit it. We have not seen the material, but if it is good, this is exactly the work Czech TV should be doing.

There was an uproar in Czech Television on the morning of Wednesday 25th July when they read this. The cat was out of the bag, they were forced to broadcast the stuff as soon as possible. As a result of that, the Main Evening News on that night began like this.


Czech Television, 25th July, 2001, time: 19.15, duration: 5'30"

British checks at Prague's Ruzyně Airport continue. One Czech TV reporter has been let through, another a Romany reporter, has been intercepted.

The government will borrow 100 billion for the removal of debts of the Investment and Commercial Bank from the Business Bank which has bought the IC Bank from the state.

The arbitration procedures dealing with the conflict between the chief of Nova TV Vladimir Železný and the US company CME has cost the Czech Republic 108 million crowns to date.

Landslides are threatening the Vsetín region after the weekend rains.

Demonstrators in Skopje, Macedonia, have attacked the embassies of the Western countries.

Good evening. Here is the Main Evening News for 25th July.

Good evening.

British officials have been carrying out pre-immigration checks at Prague's Ruzyně Airport for a week now. Since Saturday, Romany inspection officials have been also present at Prague Airport. These registered the last two Romany families which were barred from flying to London by the British immigration officials last Saturday. Since then, no more Romany families have attempted to fly to Britain from the Czech Republic.

The Romany representatives regard these British checks on Czech territory as discriminatory. The Romanies say that the British officials interrogate the Romanies in a different room from other passengers and that the Romanies are questioned in a much more detailed manner than other passengers. Our reporters Richard Samko and Nora Nováková filmed how the pre-immigration checks take place.

A reporter: On Monday, Nora Nováková and Richard Samko arrived with pre-purchased air tickets arrived at the Ruzyně Airport in order to fly to London. Each of them submitted themselves to the British officials separately, but they gave identical destination, saying that they wished to visit a friend in London. Both of them gave the same address in London. They both said to the officials that they had 200 dollars to spend and that their income in the Czech Republic is 8000 crowns per month net of tax. Richard Samko went to the counter first.

Richard Samko: The conversation at the counter lasted for about five minutes. Without being given any explanation by the British officials, I was then forced to go to a different room. In this room, they again asked me questions. The interrogation was now more detailed and more thorough.

Translator: Do you have any savings?

Samko: No.

Translator: Your family is here in the Czech Republic? Or do you have any relatives abroad?

Samko: In Slovakia.

Reporter: The interrogation lasted for some 25 minutes. The the official picked up the telephone and a colleague of his entered the room. They briefly spoke together and after this consultation they told me they did not have enough evidence to prove that I wished to visit England as a tourist.

Female translator: Mr. immigration official is unfortunately not certain that you only want to visit Britain. So he will refuse you entry.

Samko: And what is the reason given?

Female translator: Excuse me?

Samko: Is there any particular reason?

Female translator: He is not sure that you only want to visit the place. He is afraid that you might want to wish to stay there, perhaps.

Reporter: Nora Nováková was allowed to fly to London. After she had approached the first counter, she gave the same information as Richard Samko and she was given leave to enter Great Britain without any problems.

Nora Nováková: It was relatively short, they asked me what I was going to be doing there, they asked me what my job was in the Czech Republic and they asked me whether the person I was going to see was my boyfriend, I said he was only a friend.

Reporter: On Tuesday, Richard Samko tried to travel to Great Britain again. He again gave the immigration officials the same London address of a friend and he again gave the officials information about his financial circumstances. He was again refused entry. The official recognised him and asked him only whether he was bringing any new information.

Female translator: He wants to ask you why you have come back.

Samko: Because I want to travel to England.

Female translator: Do you really think that he will allow you to travel to Britain?

Samko: Then I was again made to go to the adjoining, interrogation room. The official did not even bother to get off his seat at the other end of the room and asked the translator to interpret for me to the other end of the room.

Samko: Could you please tell me why the official is talking to me from the other end of the room?

Female translator: Because they are photocopying documentation denying you access to Britain. Because you have not brought any other information since yesterday.

Samko: Because I was telling you the truth.

Samko: When I asked the immigration official whether I might be able to visit my friend in London in the near future, the official told me that I would not be allowed to do so.

Reporter: British Ambassador to the Czech Republic David Broucher says that the interrogation room is not designed only for interrogating Romanies.

David Broucher: The rooms are there for those people who have certain problems or difficulties, to enable them calmly to answer our questions.

Reporter: In the view of the British ambassador, these measures aim merely to prevent the arrival of other Czechs to Great Britain and they are supposed to be temporary. David Broucher says that Great Britain is only trying to save the taxpayers'money. David Garkisch, Nora Nováková and Richard Samko, Czech Television.

Newscaster: Yesterday the praesidium of the Czech government dealt with the situation at Ruzyně Airport. Today, for the first time since the introduction of this measure the whole Czech government met. Jan Němec reports on its work. How does the government look at the situation at the airport?

Jan Němec: Today, the government did not deal with the situation at all. The vice premier Pavel Rychetský only presented the views of the government praesidium, arrived at yesterday. Rychetský said: We have not registered any cases of discrimination. All applicants for travel to Britain are being questioned in the same way, regardless of the colour of the skin. He added that if the government found any discrimination, it would act.

The best material for years, but...

It was the best material that Czech TV had put out on its Main News for years.

Under normal circumstances, the news items on Czech TV are very short, the pace of the news is hectic. The impact of this newsitem was made much stronger than usual by the fact that it was not too rushed and the item was much longer than is usually the case.

However, it must be added that when the whole half-hour programme Fakta, featuring this problem, was eventually broadcast on Monday 30th July, it became apparent that the Czech TV had prepared its racial test incompetently and the detailed analysis of the work of the immigration officials in the half hour broadcast within Fakta was incompetenet and inconclusive. The problem was that the white reporter behaved like an educated, middle class person while the Romany reporter answered questions in a quite unconvincing, illiterate manner. The white reporter could speak English, the Romany reporter could not. If the Fakta programme proved anything it proved that the British immigration officers discriminated against Samko primarily on the basis of class, maybe less on the basis of colour. In spite of that, the first impression, made on the Main Evening News on Wednesday 25th July was incredibly strong and had a lasting impact.

The British must have known that they had lost the propaganda war by then. Ambassador Broucher tried to defend his immigration officials by saying that Samko had allegedly given a fictitious London adresss. Czech TV responded by showing the appropriate page from a London A-Z where the street that Samko gave was listed - it was the same address which was visited by the white reporter Nora Nováková. So Broucher retorted that the name of the street had been garbled and that Samko had not given a proper post code. One commentator replied that Samko was not dutibound to give a postcode since he was not a parcel. The debate was beginning to assume absurd features.

The Czech media behaved sensibly

It was remarkable in the whole controversy that while the British diplomats and most Czech politicians were making ever more absurd statements, the media, especially the newspapers, unusually, behaved very sensibly. One wonders why this was. Was it because the Czech, predominantly right wing media hate the social democratic Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and his British cronies Jack Straw and other members of the Blair government and were deliberately trying to make life as difficult as possible?

It is indisputable that the situation was outrageous and absurd and that most Czech newspapers displayed good common sense. This was all the more remarkable since the Czech intellectual community, who had been up in arms in December 2000, allegedly in support for freedom of speech when there was a threat that a new Chief Executive of Czech TV, a BBC man, might open the finances of Czech public service TV to public scrutiny and much of the money and publicity which flows to these "intellectuals" from Czech TV would have probably been curtailed, did not react at all when the human rights of their Romani fellow citizens were being infringed.

Václav Havel, on holiday in Portugal, eventually got round to criticising the ethnic filter at Prague Airport only after Jaroslav Plesl, one of the best and the most courageous young Czech journalists published the following article in the Prague "intellectual daily" Lidové noviny (it is quite paradoxical that ITN only ran an item about the matter when Havel reluctantly decided to criticise the British):

Lidové noviny: The best thing would probably be to shoot all the Romanies dead because..


30th July, 2001

Author: Jaroslav Plesl, page 10:

The best thing would probably be to shoot all the Romanies dead because... we obviously do not know how to solve their problems in any other way. Not even the President [Havel] is interested in a minority of his citizens, made up of several hundred thousand dark-skinned Czechs. He is pleasantly enjoying his holidays in Portugal while at Ruzyně Airport, a foreign power is screening the "sub-human" citizens of his country. So what, eh?

The Romany problem is growing and we do not know what to do with it. We close our eyes before the children scraping along in the undignified conditions of ghettoes outside the towns up and down the country and we tell ourselves: Their parents don't know how to take proper care of them, so these children do not deserve any better. The best thing would be if they died out. Every gypsy is for us at least a thief, usually we regard him as a murderer - never is he or she a human being worthy of an equal status with us. None of us of course knows what it is like to be born to parents whom no one has prepared for life with a white majority. And that is why we do not even know how to (or we do not want to) appreciate those who have managed to overcome the barrier between the world of the white people and the black people, those black individuals who have made it in the white world. We always only see them as exceptions which prove the rule: The gypsies lie, steal and cheat.

We have a serious problem which we will have to deal with, although we still refuse to realise how pressing it is. We absolutely do ignore it, we can see that from the way in which the white elite in this country behaves. Václav Havel deemed it necessary on Friday to send us a message [from his vacation in Portugal] saying that he wass having a great time and that he had been to a concert given by the famous tenor Carreras. Well, that is truly wonderful. But hundreds of thousands of our dark-skinned fellow-citizens are perhaps somewhat more interested what the President of the country might think of the undignified process of selection, which is being carried out at Ruzyně Airport. Doesn't this just happen to be a slightly weaker version of the selection process at the infamous Auschwitz ramp where Joseph Mengele sorted out the Jews? Would Havel like perhaps to try and stop this pitiful theatre? And what about Václav Klaus, the Speaker of the Parliament? Where is he? What does Václav Klaus think about the problem? But how any Romanies vote for his Civic Democratic Party, eh? The successful white Czech will surely not reproach us for being silent!

Klaus's colleague Miroslav Macek has grasped the problem best of all. He has said that the Romanies will now finally understand that even Britain does not extend a welcoming hand to them. But maybe the Romanies are not looking for a welcoming country, but only for more tolerant and friendly fellow citizens. And they do tend to find such people in the West. This is proven by the experience of the Romanies who have emigrated to Canada. But all Czech Romaneis cannot escape, especially since the British are now creating obstacles for them at Ruzyně Airport.

Experience tells us that each minority can be oppressed only up to a certain limit. Then it will begin to defend itself with all available means. So let us beware - it might happen that one day Romanies will want to shoot dead all of us.

Here are the headlines from the most widely read Czech newspaper, Mladá fronta Dnes, Friday, 20th July:

Main Headline on the front page: "Checks at Prague airport: The whites can go, the dark skinned must stay behind." MFD's comment on page C3, Fri 20th July: Headline: GET BACK, YOU GYPSY. Highlighted quote: If the British are now returning Romanies, they may soon start returning even Czechs. If they have a problem with their asylum system, let them sort it out and not export their problems abroad." The first paragraph of the article by Robert Nemec: "It is not enough for the British to ask us about things which are none of their business on our arrival to Britain. Now, as a result of the sycophancy of the Czech government, they have moved as far as Prague's Ruzyne airport. (...) British immigration officials are supposed to be at Prague Airport only temporarily. Soviet occupation troops were also in Czechoslovakia temporarily.


Between Wednesday, 18th July and Sunday 22nd July, British immigration controls prevented more than fifty individuals at Prague airport from travelling to Britain by air, said the Czech News Agency on 23rd July see text in Czech and picture, target="_top">here:

The British immigration officials systematically excluded individuals with dark skins. When this was seen as outrageous, as a token gesture, they chose to refuse permission to travel to two white Czech students, who were about to start a course in London. There were instances when applicants for travel to Britain had sufficient money, an invitation from Britain and a return air ticket, the British officials have turned them away. A woman who had been married to a person living in Britain, had lived in Britain for two years and had her marriage certificate with her, as well as a lease document for a flat in London refused permission to travel. A lady wrote to Britské listy from Ostrava: "We have been saving all year for a holiday in Scotland. However, while my husband and my son are white, I am a Romany and am dark skinned. I am afraid that all our money will be wasted because I will be turned away at Prague Airport."

The British Home Office told the Commission for Racial Equality in September 2001 that during the first application of the racial filter, between 18th July and 9th August, 114 Czech passport holders were barred from boarding a plane to Britain. The Home Office spokesperson says in the letter that the Home Office does not know the breakdown of this group on ethnic grounds: "The operation has not involved targeting on ethnic grounds." The headed notepaper from the Home Offices carries a slogan: "Building a safe, just and tolerant society."

h3>The Legal Background

The British immigration checks at Prague were the result of a British-Czech consular agreement between the Czech and the British Home Office dated February 2001. But, weirdly enough, it is an update on a treaty concluded between Britain and communist Czechoslovakia in the mid 1970s.

As the Guardian finally reported, on 30th July, 2001,

< p class= "bq">"Internal documents obtained by www.britskelisty.cz, a Prague-based investigative website, show that the Czech foreign ministry held secret negotiations with the British government on how to prevent Roma from travelling to the UK because they were disrupting otherwise excellent Czech-British relations. When it appeared that it would be illegal to prevent Czech nationals - who do not need visas to come to Britain - holding tickets from boarding a plane, civil servants gently bent old intergovernmental arrangements to satisfy the requirenments of the modern world. They went back to a 1975 consular agreement, forged in the cold war, that [merely] allowed British embassy staff to extend, renew or revoke the British visas of Czech nationals."

In the document, the Czech Foreign Ministry accused Romanies of disrupting otherwise excellent Czech-British relations. The ministry admitted that it had had secret negotiations with the British government on how to prevent Romanies from travelling abroad. The report acknowledged that the presence of British immigration offcials at Prague Airport would be an infringemet of both Czech and international legal human rights provisions, so the solution with the Czech Foreign Ministry has found in collaboration wit the British officials, bypassed the law

It was obvious from the document that the selection of passengers bound for Britain can be legally made only by consular officials, not by immigration officials. A Home Office spokesperson in London told the Guardian newspaper that the British people in Prague were immigration officials, not consular officials. This was an act that the Czech Foreign Office said in its own document was an infringement of the law.

The most scandalous wass the last paragraph of the document from which it followed that the Czech government had conspired with a foreign power in order to prevent its citizens from applying for asylum abroad, thus denying them one of the most important human rights, guaranteed by the Czech "Bill of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

The document is displayed in Britské listy in Czech here.

As I have said, the British immigration checks at Prague were the result of a British-Czech consular agreement between the Czech and the British Home Office from February 2001. But, weirdly enough, this was an update on a treaty concluded between Britain and communist Czechoslovakia in the mid 1970s.

"In March 2000, the British side approached the Czech Interior Ministry (...) with a proposal to conclude an Agreement on Understanding between the governments of Great Britain and the Czech Republic on cooperation about the temporary introduction of British immigration checks at Prague's Ruzyne Airport. This agreement was to provide for the installation of British immigration officials at Prague Airport. The officials were to operate in the Departure Hall and were to stamp the travellers' Landing Cars with either ENTRY PERMITTED or ENTRY DENIED. The decision to transport the passenger or not was to be left at the discretion of the airlines.

"But with regard to the obligations, contained in the proposal for such an agreement, this would have to have been an international agreement, concluded by the President of the Country, and at least on the Czech side it would have to be approved by parliament.

"The obligations within such an agreement could be in contradiction to internal Czech laws and also in contradiction to obligations, based on other bilateral and multilateral agreements in the area of human rights, which the Czech Republic must fulfill.

"On the basis of two rounds of talks of experts from both countries in March and in May 2000, which included representatives of the British Foreign Office, Home Office and the Immigration Service and the Czech Foreign Office, Home Office and Immigration Service, the original proposal was therefore changed.

"The current solution is based on an extensive interpretation of Article 36 of the Consular Agreement between Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and United Kingdom, dated 3rd April, 1975, and it will be confirmed by an exchange of notes."

The Czech Foreign Ministry bypassed the need to conclude a new international agreement between the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom, which would have needed to be approved by Czech President and Parliament, by issuing a "Technical Directive", which it appended to the original "1975 Consular Agreement". This is an extensive note of 11 paragraphs and it contains all the points which under normal circumstances would have had to have been the subject of a new international agreement, see in Czech in Britské listy at here. The text is a provocative challenge to the letter of Czech law:

" 1. The [British] consular officials will (...) do the work of immigration officials and are entitled to issue and stamp United Kingdom pre-clearance airport slips.

" 2. The [British] consular officials are entitled to carry out pre-clearance of passengers at Prague Airport. They are entitled to carry out interrogation, demand the submission of passports and visas and to issue or deny pre-clearance airports slips entitling passengers to entering the United Kingdom.

" 3. The pre-clearance checks will be carried out before the passengers, intending to travel to the United Kingdom, are checked in by the airline.

" 4. None of these measures infringe the freedom of all travellers to begin a journey to the United Kingdom except that it gives the airlines the right to refuse to transport such passengers whom they would have to return according to the United Kingdom law.

" (...)

" 11. The government of the United Kingdom will terminate this measure ... on the basis of a written notification, given three months' in advance.

It is interesting that the government of the United Kingdom was caught on the hop by the violently negative reaction of the Czech media to this measure because it was hastily announced at a news conference, held at the Czech Foreign Ministry by Czech Foreign Minister Kavan and Dennis Keefe of the British Embassy on 8th August, 2001 that the measure was being scrapped with immediate effect - somehow the three months' notice was no longer necessary. But the Romanies started travelling to Britain again, and so the measure was reintroduced on 22nd August and was quietly abolished again in the wake of the US bombings in the last few days.

I was present at this news conference at the Czech Foreign Office in Prague and I asked Jan Kavan (see here) why his ministry was breaking the law by illegally extending the 1975 Czech-British consular agreement rather than submitting a new agreement to President and Parliament on this matter. Kavan replied that he thought that his ministry was not acting illegally and was looking forward to any legal challenge in this matter. I also asked the representative of the British Embassy Denis Keefe why he was lying to the Czech public saying that British immigration officials cannot act in a racist manner since Britain has antiracist laws considering that the current Race Relations Act allows British immigration officials to discriminate people according to ethnic and national origin. Keefe replied that the British immigration officers at Ruzyně Airport have not been these provisions of the Race Relations Act.

The Commission for Racial Equality has written to me, also pointing out that under current British law discrimination, on the grounds of nationality or ethnic or national origin is now lawful, where this is "in accordance with legislation or ministerial authorisation". It is not clear to me how this ethnic discrimination can be tolerated in the light of international human rights covenants, to which surely Britain is a signatory. Barbara Cohen, the Principal Legal Officer of the CRE, also pointed out to me that it may well be illegal to apply British law abroad, i.e. on Czech territory, but the point at issue will not become clear until it is tested in the British courts.

Professor Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, a specialist in immigration law at Oxford University, has written to me:

(1) I wish there were a simple answer to your question on the right of asylum and the powers of the State to prevent the arrival of asylum seekers...

Unfortunately, the 1951 Convention/1967 Protocol says nothing at all about the right to apply for asylum, but only about the duty of the State not to refoule a refugee, i.e. not to send a person back to where they are in danger of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion.

The ‘right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution’, which is set forth in Article 14(1) of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains exactly where it was more or less as it was fifty years ago: the right to take flight, but with no entitlement or expectation that any door anywhere will ever be opened. The UDHR is not a treaty, but a non-binding instrument adopted by the UN General Assembly, essentially as a recommendation. Unlike the other rights in the UDHR, asylum was not included in either of the 1966 Covenants and States generally have been reluctant to admit that the individual has any right in the matter. Indeed, States (and the UK is not alone in this) regularly make use of the gaps in the international legal regime of refugee protection to avoid responsibility for finding solutions to common problems, revealing in their unilateral and arbitrary responses a quite remarkable lack of foresight, let alone of international solidarity and commitment.

However, taking account generally of developments in international human rights law (much of the UDHR is now recognized as forming part of customary international law) and the responsibilities of States, I would argue that today there are collective duties, duties on the international community of States as a whole, with respect to the protection of persons moving or seeking to move across borders derives. Without going too deeply into the legal aspects for now, I would argue that these duties derive, in part at least, from the character erga omnes of human rights obligations, considered within the co-operative framework established by the United Nations Charter. An appropriate analogy is with the common interest in preserving international public order.

In the context of movements between States, the right to leave to seek and to enjoy asylum may indeed be the only aspect in international law that is recognized as imposing any duty on States. The (nearly) correlative duty on States is not to frustrate the exercise of that right in such a way as to leave individuals exposed to persecution or other violation of their human rights; and that correspondingly intentional policies and practices of containment without protection will constitute an abuse of rights.

Essentially, this argument boils down to the proposition that, in a refugee-type situation (one in which nationals are at risk of persecution or other serious violation of human rights in their own country), other States are obliged to recognize the ‘right to leave to seek and to enjoy asylum’. States ought not, I suggest, to exercise their own rights to control the movement of persons, including the admission of individuals to their territory, in an ‘abusive’ manner, that is, solely with a view to ensuring that potential refugees remain in their own country and do not find protection.

(2) Your second question raises interesting questions of sovereignty and of the rights of the citizen.

First, the United Kingdom has no right to exercise immigration powers in another country, such as the Czech Republic, except with the express permission of that other country. This is an aspect of sovereignty, and in the absence of permission would constitute an infringement of the rights of the Czech Republic. I understand that the Czech Republic has agreed to UK officials exercising UK authority on its territory.

Secondly, it is highly questionable whether UK immigration officers have any right to inspect the passports of British citizens seeking to travel to/return to the United Kingdom. Citizens have the right to leave and enter, and to do so ‘without let or hindrance’.

When I was returning from Prague on 18th September, I asked a British immigration official at the racist check in Ruzyně on the basis of what British law they were checking British passports there. He did not know how to reply and said that I should write to my MP.

Indeed, this is what I did on 23rd August, 2001. I asked among other things:

1. On Thursday 9th August, 2001, my wife Lesley Čulík travelled from Prague Airport to the United Kingdom. Although she was born in Britain and is a British citizen and a British passport holder, she was subjected to British immigration checks at Prague Airport along with other Czech and British travellers to Britain. Since British passport holders with permanent residence in the United Kingdom cannot be refused entry on arrival in Britain, could please Mr. David Blunkett explain on what grounds were British passport holders subjected to immigration controls at Prague Airport? I am not aware of any legislation which gives British officials abroad, on foreign sovereign territory, the right to check British passports and to decide whether or not they can be admitted on board aircraft bound for Britain. If this action by British immigration officials at Prague Airport vis-a-vis British passport holders was illegal, could Mr. David Blunkett please advise how he can justify it?

2. As my wife, Lesley Čulík, British passport holder, was "approved for travel to Britain" by British immigration officials at Prague Airport, she was given a piece of paper, a photograph of which is enclosed, (see here) see Enclosure 2. The piece of paper says "For presentation to participating airline". Participating in what? Could Mr. David Blunkett please explain the nature of the scheme that the slip refers to (was the purpose of the scheme to prevent dark-skinned Czech citizens from travelling to the United Kingdom?), which airlines "participated" in it, in what way and what legal grounds were there for operating such a scheme and in what official documents is such a "scheme" described?

3. Could you please ask Mr. David Blunkett and Mr. Jack Straw why the British authorities have colluded with the Czech government in bypassing the Czech Parliament and the Czech President in this matter, knowing full well that a proper international agreement would have been needed to provide sufficient legal grounds for British immigration checks at Prague Airport to be instituted?

4. Is it true that the British immigration checks at Prague Airport were aimed at preventing applicants for asylum under the 1951 Geneva Convention, to which the United Kingdom is a full signatory, from reaching Britain? If so, what Act of Parliament gives the Home Office the right to avoid the fulfilment of its duties under the Geneva Convention by preventing applicants for asylum from reaching this country? Isn't such action hypocritical? Do not Mr. David Blunkett and Mr. Jack Straw agree that if the United Kingdom feels reluctant to fulfil its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention, it should openly withdraw its signature from under this Convention rather than merely pretending to fulfil it?

5. While in the Czech Republic during the "immigration crisis", I watched the behaviour of the officials at the British Embassy in Prague with mounting disbelief. Mr. David Broucher, the UK Ambassador to the Czech Republic, said on Czech TV that "no Czech citizen is entitled to apply for asylum in the United Kingdom". Could you please ask Mr. Jack Straw on what legal grounds Mr. Broucher made this statement, since a number of Czech citizens have recently been granted asylum in the United Kingdom on appeal and as far as I know, all applications for asylum must be assessed on a case by case basis.

6. Mr. Denis Keefe, an official at the British Embassy in Prague, said on Czech TV that British immigration officials do not make racist decisions at Prague Airport because "there are laws against racial discrimination in the United Kingdom". This statement by Mr. Keefe is incorrect on two counts. As the Guardian pointed out on 30th July, "the 2000 amendment to the Race Relations Act, which outlawed racial discrimination by public bodies, exempted the immigration service, allowing asylum decision-makers to discriminate legally on grounds of skin colour - so Mr. Keefe was in fact incorrect in his statement on Czech TV. British immigration officials working at Prague Airport were on Czech sovereign territory, consequently their actions fell under the scope of Czech law, not British law. If they broke Czech law, they should be liable for prosecution in the Czech Republic.

Is it a part of the job of British diplomats abroad to provide false information to the public?

7. During the time that British immigration controls were in operation at Prague Airport, British immigration officials behaved as though they were acting on British sovereign territory, which was not the case. They prevented the Czech police from entering their interrogation compound and made difficulties when representatives of the Czech Helsinki Committee, which monitors human rights issues, wished to oversee their activities at Prague Airport. Could Mr. David Blunkett and Mr. Jack Straw explain on what grounds did the British immigration officials behave at Prague Airport as though it were British territory?

While I have received a confirmation from my MP that the letter has been forwarded to the Foreign Office in London, I have not received a reply to this letter.

Glasgow, 15th October 2001

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